The Pushbutton Devil

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As bad as the government is about making new cars cost a fortune by issuing regulatory fatwas (such as “fleet average” fuel economy requirements) the automakers themselves are just as guilty. Maybe more so, because much of the stuff they are engineering into new cars is stuff that they could leave out since there’s no law (yet) requiring them.

For example, push-button (keyless) ignition.

Go back five years and this was an exotic feature you encountered in a few very high-end cars – which is where a feature like this belongs because it doesn’t really add any functionality, just some “wow factor” – and, of course, expense. A lot of expense. Instead of a physical key you insert into a lock, then turn – you’ve got a key fob transmitter that “talks” to the car’s ignition system. You don’t turn anything. Just push the “start” button on the dash or console and the engine fires up. Push the button again to turn off the engine. This is neato-torpedo, I guess – until the fob stops transmitting because you forgot to take it out of your pants pocket and it went through a “super” wash cycle. Or maybe you just lost it. Now, you’ll feel the dark side of technology. Instead of going to Lowes and having a duplicate key cut for $5 you’ll be heading to the dealership – because only the dealership can fix the push-button ignition. It is proprietary technology; their technology.  Instead of $5, you could be looking at $500.

For a new car key.

God help you if the problem runs deeper – like some defect with the internal guts/computer gremlins inside the steering column that run the show. Used to be you could just pop out the lock cylinder in the steering column and pop in a new one, easy-peasy Japaneesy. It cost maybe $75.  That figure is about two-thirds the hourly labor rate you’ll be paying to have a “technician” chase down whatever glitch has developed in your car’s “operating system.”

Parts not included.

Note: The keyless ignition system is not the same animal as remote keyless entry. For the latter you can still get relatively reasonably priced replacements on the aftermarket (as well as at the dealer) for about $75 or so. The keyless ignition stuff is different. It allows you (or someone else) to start and drive the car without a physical key – not just get into the car. The automakers are – understandably – reluctant to allow anyone but their own authorized dealers to access the codes/software and so on that comprise the working guts of the keyless ignition.

So when the push-button ignition system malfunctions, or you’ve lost your transmitter, you’re in their clutches.

And of course, stuck.

If you’re rich, no big deal. You pay what they say and drive on. But most of us aren’t. Yet more and more cars (I test drive new ones every week) including more and more modestly priced, $25k-ish family-type cars, are coming through equipped with this technology. It is being pushed hard by the automakers because, well, there’s a lot of money in it. The profit margins are large at point-of-sale and even more so down the road, when the system gets buggy or you lose the transmitter. These are things you cannot fix yourself – not unless you are an MIT grad with a full array of factory diagnostic tools and equipment, anyhow.

I would just say no, myself.

The problem is that it’s becoming hard to just say no.

Just like cell phones, which are equally inessential yet depressingly ubiquitous, push-button ignition (and more besides) is becoming a default standard in new cars. Automaker agit-prop has convinced the masses that they absolutely must have such things – just like they succeeded in convincing minivan-driving Moos who drive significantly faster than the posted speed about as often as Newt Gingrich goes for a jog that they must have 17 inch alloy wheels and 55-series low-aspect ratio $150 a piece “sport” tires.

Lots of money in that, too.

In a couple of years – probably sooner – it will be as hard to find a car without push-button start as it is to find a car without power windows or ABS brakes today.

Physical keys are on their way to becoming curiosities of a bygone era – like the paid-for home and having more than $50 in your bank account.

I wonder whether there’s a connection… .







  1. Eric,

    I’m late to the party here; I saw the popup when reading one of your new posts, so I checked this out…

    I must disagree with you that new keys are cheap; they’re not! If one wanted to merely enter and older car, say like my old 2006 Nissan, yes, then you can get a key made at Lowes. However, it will not START the car, because since the early 00s, cars have had chipped keys. Ever wonder why they came with big, black tabs on the top? It was to house the chip.

    The chip is coded for the particular car. If you lose the chipped key, then you have to go to the dealer to get a new one. For the Nissan, the price was triple digits. For my first Ford Focus, the key itself would set you back $125; of course, one must get this through the dealer. If you follow the instructions in your owner’s manual, you could match the key to the car. If you have the dealer do this, it’d cost extra. But yeah, for 15-20 years now, car keys have been chipped and matched to a particular car; and no, you can’t get them made at Lowes…

  2. Anyone can spin anything. “Oh, I don’t want those modern air bags or radios!” They can break! So can a horseshoe. Nothing is going to last forever. How many people work on cars themselves anyways? Almost zero.
    Push button start is awesome. Never need to look for keys in a pocket or handbag, and no need to add extra steps.

    I don’t want a computer either. They have only automated and simplified millions of things we use daily.

    Yes. I am kidding. I have a computer and welcome current technology.

    • Chevy,

      Some times new technology is worth the potential hassle and cost. Many times it is not.

      In the case of a push button: How much harder is it to use a key than pressing a button? A key will last the life of most (if not all) cars without any problems. Can one say the same for push button start?
      What is the extra cost of the push button system? Three keys probably cost under $5 (I am guessing even less). I do not know the cost of the push button system, but a trip to the dealer is at least $100 before any actual work is done.

      • Mithrandir most cars that I know of have not had $5 keys for many years. Most keys are programmed keys. The only thing a $5 key will do in those cars is open the car door or trunk.Clover

        • Clover,

          For once, you’re right!

          Very few, if any, late model cars have simple physical/cut keys that can be replaced/duplicated for less than $10 at any hardware store.

          Most have some type of “chipped” or “programmed” fob. Which I’ll admit can be handy. But they’re also often very expensive. Some of them cost more than $100 to replace.

          Given that, I prefer the slight inconvenience of the old-style keys. Which can last decades – and which cost almost nothing to replace, if they do wear out or break or get lost.

          PS: As usual, you also don’t address the peripheral costs associated with keyless/remote-type ignition and door locks. In an old school system, the lock cylinder is a simple mechanical part, easily and inexpensively replaced.

          You prefer the more elaborate/expensive system – but I’d be willing to bet that, like most Americans who are like you, you live a debt-fueled lifestyle. This is the New Way.

          But some of us prefer to live below our means, and avoid debt.

          • Eric I have zero debt and millions of dollars in equity in stocks, houses and cash. Yes you can say I lived below my means. By the way I have been driving a more modern car that gets far better gas mileage and cheaper per mile to drive than anything you have ever owned that can be driven year around.
            Eric I have more money than you have because I have learned to deal with modern technology. It can save you and make you money. I have had a programmed key for my car for a long time and yes it does not break or cost anything close to $100. I just looked it up and it is $19.95 plus someone to cut it. It makes the car harder to steal. Eric if you want to call yourself a car expert then you better do a lot more research. Otherwise you need to change to only reviewing 1960s cars.

            • Sure you do, Clover.

              I knew the DMV paid well… just not that well!

              In all seriousness, nothing you claim about yourself merits consideration because for all we know, you just made it up. Who are you, Clover? You’re not engineer or a mechanic – yet you claim to know more about vehicles and how they work, are put together (and so on) than people who’ve established their bona fides to offer comment. You’re just some guy (or gal?) who drives around in a Camry and has probably not owned or driven more than a dozen different cars in your entire life, has not taken any serious driver training, almost certainly never driven on a track, etc. – yet you presume to lecture people who’ve established they have vastly more knowledge and experience as drivers than you.

              Heck, you’re not even able to type a post that’s not laden with grammar and spelling errors that would be embarrassing if you were in seventh grade.

              Until you produce something more substantive than your mangled malaprops, illiterate non sequiturs and generally incoherent emoting, we’ll simply marvel and then laugh.

              You’re amusing in the same way that someone like Elegant Elliot Offen is amusing…

            • Clover – can I have some of what you’re smoking? We recently had to have the lock cylinder in our Mopar replaced because it crapped out. We only have one key for the new lock, because they were $75 (no, not quite $100) each.

            • Yes Clover, old designs can be purchased in the form of Chinese knockoffs for cheap.

              The newest stuff from the dealer is expensive.

              Apples. Oranges.

              • Yes Brent. If you buy anything from the dealer you pay a lot more. So Brent is that why you are broke because you buy everything from the dealer? Good luck with that. By the way the key from the dealer was probably made in China also. My cell phone and watch were made in China and they work great. Yes I would prefer that they were made here but you would be able to buy very little if you only bought things made in the USA.Clover

                • Clover you ignorant slut, there are these things called patents, intellectual property, and so on. So for your old car you can buy knockoffs for new ones often not. Depends on how long that key system has been around. If not too long, there is one choice, the dealer. It’s like you haven’t been on this planet very long.

                  You certainly don’t understand the difference between knock offs and the real thing. What is made in China for major corporations that watch their suppliers can be way different than what is found on ebay and the like from knock off vendors. You need to take some care. Not that you’d understand.

      • I can tell you all about momentary-on, push button switeches. They are what the company I work for installs when the starter circuit on the switch key dies. Just connect a couple wires, to the solenoid and voila, a pushbutton switch to start. Switch=$10, Peterbilt keyed ignition switch, $200. Seems like the starter position is the one to always quit, which makes perfect sense since it has by far the greatest amount of amperage on it. It makes sense on anything that the start side of the rotary key switch might fail. I don’t see it as an advantage to a new switch key manufacturers pay next to nothing for, will not often fail but if they do, it’s just a trip to the dealer and a pricey new switch.

        then again, I guess most people didn’t grow up with an on switch and a pushbutton starter switch on nearly everything they drove. My ’55 Chevy pickup, like all pickups back then, had a floor switch for the starter. Many years later my parent’s 64 Impala key would work in that 55. They(GM, other makes)called that maximizing profit.

        • 8 – and what about those early 60’s and prior Chevys where you could take the key out of the switch and just turn the switch?

  3. 102 Woodfield Drive
    Can after market remote starters interfere with the push button car fabs and render the car unrunable or unstartable? The radio frequencies are clashing? This has happened x2 with a 2010 lincoln MKT.. had to be towed twice ..and be reprogrammed?

    • Hi Susan,

      I wasn’t aware there were aftermarket remote start systems. Could it be causing your problem? Possibly. Many of the new cars I test drive have prominent warnings about aftermarket electronics. An easy way to test would be to de-power/disable your aftermarket remote start system and not use it for a while. If the problem goes away, you’ve found your problem!

  4. “Just like cell phones, which are equally inessential yet depressingly ubiquitous, push-button ignition (and more besides) is becoming a default standard in new cars.”

    Exactly. This is one of the reasons why all of my vehicles are approaching 15 years of age. Just the right vintage to be modern and reliable, and just old enough not to have gimmicks. And, no… I don’t have a smartphone, either.

    For the record, I am an electronic engineer by training, and I have no use whatsoever for much of our modern technology.

    • No doubt. I think all the extra crap included on cars is completely out of control! Seat belts, decent structural integrity for typical accidents I can understand. The rest of the shit should be optional. Imagine how much cheaper a car would be without ABS, traction control, airbags, and the rest of the crap. There are too many people tied to the top that help mandate these requirement to lucubrate their pockets. How sweet would it be to start a company that makes cars for the people like us. I’ve been pondering this idea for a bit. Something like a damn near complete kit car that the end user does the finishing touches on (something super simple like connecting a few wires). Anyhow, they register it as a homemade car and drive it. I don’t know shit about how the legal aspects would work, but I know it is possible to do. Maybe worth investigating more.. Maybe even just having the company rehab old cars to brand spanking new condition (kind of boring though). If doing the rehab deal it would of course focus on vehicles with abundant aftermarket and easy to find parts. Shit, could even call the company EP Autos! As far as I am concerned the early to mid 90s technology for automobiles is perfect.

      • You’d be ok as a (very) small-scale company, but if you ever began to sell volume, all the DOT and EPA stuff would come down on you like a ton of bricks. This is the reason why it is essentially impossible for any new start-up to compete with the established car companies. GM and the rest of them are huge combines that can afford compliance costs; small start-ups can’t. Which is why, I suspect, the huge combines are actively supportive of all these “safety” mandates. They know only they can afford to incorporate such features into their new cars; that the mandates serve to limit the playing field.

        Even 60 years ago, it was damn near impossible for a start-up to get going. See the case of Preston Tucker.

    • It’s good to know there are other sane people out there!

      Just like you, I bought a “new enough” vehicle (1998 pick-up) and then a back-up for that one (identical truck, but slightly newer with only 60k on the clock) that I keep in reserve for when the first truck gets too tired to drive regularly.

    • Good for you Beginner. You are living in the stone ages. I can take a call from my watch. I can ask my watch or phone the latest sports score or who is winning the division. I can get notified on my watch when to turn when I am on a trip. Technology is not needed but it makes your life so much better. I can pay my bills from my phone. I can go to the store and pay my bill by holding my phone up and touching a button on it. I can do thousands of things without turning on my computer or opening the mail box. Go ahead and live in the stone age. I never will gain. Why would I want to go back to when things were worse like Eric does? Why would I want to go back to when cars got 10 mpg and having to wait for your neighbor to get off the phone so you could call someone. You can rub two sticks together to start your next meal. Good luck with that.Clover

      • Yes Clover, the modern world of debt slavery is much better. The nationwide and coming worldwide company town is much better. One giant happy Fordlandia or Pullman. A few gadgets makes being reduced to a human resource just fine.

        • Brent I have zero debt. Only libertarians are so stupid they do not know how to handle money. So Brent why do you drive a car? A horse would be cheaper. Why use the modern technology?Clover

          • Clover,

            As always, you refuse to address the issue (using force to compel people to buy – or do – something) and fulminate over some other, irrelevant, issue.

            You want six (twelve?) air bags… ? Great. Buy them.

            The issue is whether you have the right to force others to buy even one air bag. Or to force them to subsidize your air bags.

          • Yes Clover, I know, you got to start investing in 1980 or whatever. You know what the interest rates back then were? I recall making about 14% interest on my meager birthday and xmas money savings back then. That held prices down too.

            Now if had been an adult in 1980 I would be worth millions today. Instead my prime earning years have been in the ages of bubbles and ZIRP. People bid up the prices of homes and everything else based on the monthly payments. I can’t take the highest paying jobs available to me because that means moving to SF/Si Valley where the ordinary houses start at 1.5 million. In some cases all that buys are the tear downs. While the regional salary increase is huge it doesn’t cover the costs, it only covers the interest. The monthly payment. That’s because most people think that way so the companies don’t pay enough to do more than cover the added interest costs. So it all goes to the banks and the principle still has to be paid. Ball and chain.

            Then there are the taxes. Did you pay 10% or more of your salary in property taxes back in the good old days Clover? That’s how it is here in Illinois for most people now. And of course the bubbles. Do you know how much your government’s monetary policies have cost the generations behind you in losses in real estate and equities? Of course you don’t care, because you bought in 1980.

            So please brag a little bit more about how the system has benefited you at the expense of those younger than you. Chide me for not having a time machine to go back to 1980 when simple investing and interest on savings still worked. When buying property wouldn’t evaporate your savings. Come on Clover, tell me how much a moron I am because I can’t time travel buy a house for 30K and sell it today for 1.5 million.

            Hell Clover if it was 1980 I could be a friggin’ car hoarder and become a millionaire today. There’s no investment savvy needed for your generation. It was just buy and hold. Today that will get you f’cked. Ask someone who started working in the dotcom or housing bubbles how well that’s worked out. Oh sure the echo bubble right now but how much longer will that last?

            Yeah Clover, let me know when the time machine to 1980 leaves. There are some cars I want to buy and bring back with me.

  5. When I was in high school, I drove a military jeep, 1952-53 model, 24 volt electrics, split windshield for a 50cal Machine gun, and a little rubber nub down by the headlight hi-beam switch which started the motor. Yes, it had a key, but you only pushed it into the dash, switched it on, and paid it no mind until you wanted to stop the motor. Seemed to work fine, had a generic key blank available at any “key shop” for under a dollar, cut to work.

    MY HOW IMPROVED can you get?

    • IIRC, those systems were still mechanical; i.e., the floor button was just that – a mechanical button. In the latest systems, you touch the button and the computer activates the starter motor. It is not a simple mechanical interface. The computer must first recognize the transmitter fob. Then you push the button. Then the computer takes over and operates the starter, spinning it until the engine starts.

  6. Some credit cards (especially in Europe) incorporate a high security internal microprocessor using sophisticated encryption to authenticate transactions. This is a throw away item, you get a new one whenever you get a new card.

    How come the security chips in cars are so expensive.

  7. What an excellent idea. When the manufacturer is doing low numbers, just start programming the keys to take a dump more often. That’ll get the customer back in for service fo’sho!

  8. “In a couple of years – probably sooner – it will be as hard to find a car without push-button start as it is to find a car without power windows or ABS brakes today.”

    You’re scaring me Eric!!

    • Join the club! I’m not a Luddite but I also think technology has its proper place. It’s a car, people. Not a Lunar Module. Stuff like this would not bother me if it remained optional for those who want it. The thing is, cars have been so perfected that in order to justify ever-higher prices, the automakers keep on adding every more gadgets; most people seem to feel a need to be trendy and have whatever the “latest” is – which in turn pushes everyone else along and before you know it, things like push-button ignition are standard equipment. It’s the same process that made power windows and ABS brakes de facto givens in almost every new car there is…

      • The problem is that designing and manufacturing for options is costly. It’s one thing to offer different colors or things that easily attached or swapped It is another for systems that become radically altered by said options.

        Once something becomes a commodity to the car manufacturers, it doesn’t pay to have it as an option. The burden of having it as an option becomes more costly than any sales lost due to having it as standard equipment.

        Then there is supplier competition. Suppliers will compete on the features they can roll into what they are selling. A rear view mirror supplier might come up with a nifty way to add heated mirrors cheaply and thus for pennies an automaker can have another selling point.

        That said, the gadget and cost mentality of sales in the USA plays a huge role. Don’t want an automatic transmission? Salesman might throw it in for free to sell the car on his lot because the only reason someone wouldn’t want it is the cost…. arg.

        And then the got have it too mentality of marketeers. First a dealer will call the sales people at the company complaining they can’t make sales because the competition is offering a robotic trunk monkey. The sales people bring it to marketing complaining about the lack of robot trunk monkeys. Next thing ya know engineering is being tasked with coming up with a robotic trunk monkey. It depends on the company culture if any one even asks the question if a robot monkey will sell more product and make money at the end of the day. And upon asking the question any real research is done. The internal politics might have the robot offered just because marketing is politically more powerful than engineering rather than any dollars and sense (intended) reason.

        • I do not know. I kind of like the trunk monkey. 😉

          Too bad it is getting more difficult to find a relatively simple car. I would guess that about 90-95% of cars sold are with automatic transmissions. Even more have what I do not want to buy.

        • I can attest to the power that the sales or marketing people have in manufacturing. I did a short stint in the electric motor manufacturing industry as a process engineer. Management was pushing us to cut every corner we could to reduce costs. One expense is packaging, so I tried to remove one unnecessary piece of cardboard from the box for a particular model. The marketing manager came unglued; we had motors in crushed boxes, the customers were pissed, we’d already cut too much out of the boxes, etc. So being genuinely concerned about failed packaging I asked for pictures and customer data. After three tries, I suggested that maybe his evidence was anecdotal and he blew up at me. He never would buy off on it and it would have saved several thousand dollars a year. So I have to agree with Brent’s assessment of marketing’s political power and lack of science behind their decisions. Of course a robotic trunk monkey and a bag of horse biscuits could come in really handy for dealing with tailgaters…..

          • Reading this old comment reminded me of “road monkey”. That was one hilarious vid. Road monkey with his tire tool could fix any situation.

  9. Eric,
    Yeah, it seems like the government helps the car companies by mandating things, and then the car companies accomplish that mandate the most expensive way possible. I believe the car companies can already get much higher fuel economy than they do, but they seem to resist it, maybe due to oil company influence. If they would put CVT transmissions in more cars, or just transmissions with more gears, they can easily get 50 miles per gallon. They would also need to make the cars a little lighter, because they are heavy due to other government mandates: air bags, crash worthiness, etc…. The heaviness of cars of late seems to be another oil company influence to me.
    Regards, Charlie

    • I’ve often wondered about that myself. For example, I have a Nissan Frontier (2002) with the four cylinder engine and 5-speed manual. On the highway, a six speed with a steep overdrive would probably improve fuel economy by 5 MPG at 75 MPH. How much more would it cost to put in a six speed vs. a five speed?

      There are other examples….

      The main factor, though, is weight. If you cut the curb weight of the typical new car by about 500 pounds you could dramatically improve its fuel economy.

      • A great example of this would be the loremo.

        I am not sure if the car will ever be sold in Europe, but the concept is good.

        sub-1200lb cars with about 80-120 mpg.
        (granted that the cars are small, but not every one needs a larger car.)

  10. The last mention I heard of pushbutton start was from cars built before 1955. My mom recalls that the only time she was ever corporally punished was when she was 4 years old and crawled into my grandpa’s 1949 Ford, pushed the starter button, and sent the car down the driveway into the backyard.

    If I recall, in those cars, first you turned on the ignition key, and then you pressed the starter button. (If the switch was faulty or incorrectly wired, you didn’t need a key). I also think that some cars (Buicks, maybe?) of that era started when you pushed the accelerator down at the same time (which served to set the choke and send fuel to the engine in one fell swoop).

    That fell out of favor as ignitions incorporated intermittent switches after about 1955 or so and definitely when column locking ignitions came about after 1968 or so. Both of these came about because it was quite easy to hot-wire the ignition with the starter button (just bypass the ignition key).

  11. When I did an MBA twenty years ago, it brought out a point about the car industry: firms mostly competed on features rather than price, since a successful feature was spread over so many sales that its cost was nearly irrelevant – to that. But the costs of development and of setting up production were still important financially, and they were still incurred even when a feature failed in the market. It struck me that this was the logic of the Dollar auction, which drives competitors into faulty behaviour; each firm has to keep upgrading its features and wears the cumulative cost whether it keeps sales up or not. This is a market failure even without state intervention, and it was visible even twenty years ago.

    • Excellent point; you can see this phenomenon in the way every new car today is absurdly over-built/over-capable for the use it will be put to by the average driver (as well as what’s realistically possible within the boundaries of the law).

      I’ve ranted about this several times. An example: Before the 1980s, for the most part, only a very few high-performance sports cars came with tachometers. Today, literally every car on the road, just about, has one – including minivans and “crossover” wagons (almost all of them equipped with automatic transmissions). Why? Because everyone has them now. Same with large wheels/aggressive tire packages and very high horsepower engines in cars that will probably never see the far side of 100 mph – and even if they do, it will be for a few furtive seconds at most.

      • I like tachometers in the cars I drive. It is more of a visual than something really necessary.

        Manual cars can be shifted by the sound of the engine and feel of acceleration.

        For automatics, I agree that it does not make much difference.

        • Superfluous tachs are innocuous, I agree. Fun, too.

          But then there’s the current phenom of 17 inch (and larger) wheels on ordinary “a to b” transportation appliances – minivans, crossovers, SmooVees. Shod with low-aspect ratio tires that cost twice as much as a standard 15 inch all-season radial, ride harsher and don’t last as long. Why? Because ghetto culcha has annointed reeehums as the apogee of cool. Also, the average motorist likes to think of himself as a race driver running a hot lap around the Ring – even though he has neither talent nor the desire to drive much faster than the posted (low) speed limit, especially in curves. For the same reason, he also must have a 300 or even 400 hp engine even though he probably would never notice the difference if he had a 170 hp engine instead.


          • Those are two things that never made much sense to me, from a practical point of view. High hp engine are fun, but not practical. I do not find big rims to be fun or practical.

            13″ and 14″ tires were fine by me and relatively inexpensive.

            The only time that I found a 200+ hp engine necessary was
            (A) Trying to quickly accelerate to into traffic
            (B) needing to move a heavy vehicle.

            My 1980 Corolla with ~75hp was enough to travel at 60mph without straining the engine. It was good for local travel.
            On the hwy, the engine would howl in protest if I tried to drive much over 70mph. (0-60mph was about 15-20s which was fine in relaxed day to day driving)

            • My Trans-Am – a muscle car with a big V-8 – does fine with 15 inch wheels and tires. Would it handle better with 17 or 18 inch wheels and super aggressive “sport” tires? Sure. But the troof is that you have to be driving really fast for that to matter. Running 20 or more over the posted limit (in curves, where the larger tires and improved handling is noticeable) will get you in major trouble with the cops if you do it regularly. And leaving that aside – the second troof is that most people don’t have muscle cars and even fewer drive 20 or more MPH faster than the posted limit in curves. They have no functional need for 17, 18 inch and larger wheel/tire packages. They’re the equivalent of bulging codpieces on a eunuch. That’s what annoys me. The waste of it.

            • PS: I drive all sorts of new cars, including some very powerful exotics. But the troof is that I’m usually still passing everyone around me even when I am driving my beat-up old (1998) four-cylinder pick-up. I find myself passing cars with two (and sometimes three) times the horsepower and speed capability; leaving “sport sedans” in my rearview going “up the mountain” (curves). I’m not driving like a maniac, either. Just a few MPH faster than the posted limit. I run 70 on the posted 55 MPH straight sections and about 5-10 MPH faster than the posted 35 MPH limit going “up the mountain” (curves). But that is fast enough to blow past 85-90 percent of the other cars out there, many of them equipped with powerful V-6 and even V-8 engines, “high performance” suspensions – and so on. The level of interest in driving among American “drivers” is incredibly low. Yet they just have to have these massive wheel/tire packages, high-powered engines and the rest of it…

          • Eric, some years ago in a short period of time I encountered a guy driving a white aston martin vantage. The first time I encountered him I accelerated faster than he did… I was riding my bicycle. The second time I was behind him, in a light rain. We were both turning right. He went wide and I passed him on the inside… in my (drive train stock) 6 cylinder maverick. Then there was the guy in a different aston martin vantage that I got a jump on with my torqueless winter beater of the time… he then had to -show- me what his car was capable of at the next two intersections.

            Just recently I was on the interstate driving my little mazda when I passed a left lane blocker in a BMW. He then started accelerating, closing on me until the curve. Interstate curve… I just held speed and he started falling behind in my mirrors. When the road straightened out he accelerated to about 90mph and passed me not long after that… I was just laughing..

            Americans by and large don’t drive… they point and press the go pedal. Which has long been my opinion why so much regarding driving is ass backwards. People too lazy to drive and more interested in eating a meal or some other non-driving task that want other people to compensate for them.

            • That’s my daily drill! I especially enjoy the type who drives fast in a straight line but brakes dramatically for any curve, misjudges the line (waddling over into the other lane or onto the shoulder) and who always tailgates, too.

  12. A couple of years back Top Gear (the real one) did a show with the CTS-V, Challenger SRT-8, and the ZR-1 in America. One of the funniest bits was when one of them got in the Challenger and drove it into the street to block traffic, unbeknownst to James May, who was inside the diner with the key fob in his pocket. Funny, but also an epic fail.

    I think the initial impetus of this sort of push-button ignition was because it originally was found in race cars. The first implementations, on a large scale, that I ever saw were high-end sports cars. Then they started coming down market and now my mother’s Cadillac SRX mini-SUV has pushbutton start. It makes sense in a race car. A lot more than a key and an ignition cylinder. You don’t have to worry about locking your race car’s doors when you pop into WalMart for the groceries. But to properly implement the tech in a street car is apparently hugely difficult. I’m speaking as the owner of a C6 Corvette, one of the early adopters of this sort of thing.

    For those who are not aware of what we’re talking about, cars with pushbutton ignitions come with a key fob that has a radio transmitter in it that, as long as it’s on your person, will be detected by the car thus permitting the car to be started without a key and simply at the press of a button. Also, most of them, though not all, also permit the doors to be unlocked simply by pulling on the handle, as long as the fob is within a certain distance of the car door. My mother’s SRX does not work this way, incidentally, as Cadillac treats this as a separate option. Thus you can start it without pulling the key fob out of your purse or pocket, but you cannot open the door without doing so, which automatically means you have the fob in your hand and you might as well have had a key. I still haven’t figured this one out.

    So, the plusses of such a keyless entry system? After living with one for four years, there are a few.

    1. It frees up your hands. This is great when you’re carrying stuff to/from the car and you don’t want to fight the key out of your pocket or worry about dropping it with fumble-fingers. It stays in your pocket nice and cozy and never has to be moved. You can hop in the car, depress the clutch and brake pedals, and hit the button. It’s sort of nice.

    That’s it. That’s the only advantage I can think of. I’m not fool enough to believe my car is cooler just because I have pushbutton start. It, in no way, has any bearing on the performance or drivability of the car. It’s just, as Eric said, something else to go wrong and to complicate the system.

    So, the negatives.

    1. They are subject to radio interference. I’ve only encountered this very rarely (perhaps 3x in 4 years), and none of them severe enough to cause any real problems other than having to stand closer to the vehicle to activate the doors. The cars I have experienced with this system have places where you can put the fob in order to start the car even if the fob battery is completely dead (e.g., washed in the laundry).

    2. They are crazy expensive. I think a key fob replacement from the dealership for my Corvette runs about $70 or so. My mother’s SRX costs around $85. By contrast, a traditional key fob, with remote start function, for my GMC Sierra Denali costs under $5 online, last I checked.

    3. You still have to have a physical key. My Corvette has a single key, normal sized, that opens the trunk from where there is a lever that opens the driver door. This is in case of a dead battery in the car itself. My mother’s SRX has a hidden key built into the fob that will open the door in a traditional manner for the same reason. First sign of something possibly being a bad idea is if you still have to have the traditional method as a failsafe.

    4. Someone else can open your car, whether you want them to or not. If you’re in proximity to the car, another person can easily open the driver or passenger door without your permission. I’m envisioning a car-jacker waiting for someone to come out to their car in a parking lot and taking advantage of this “feature” to get in the passenger side. It’s possible to program the car to only open the driver’s door with the fob, but that’s not the default and it’s inconvenient for passengers since you have to first open the driver’s door or, again, press the door unlock button on the fob.

    5. Really annoying in an SUV is the fact that the car recognizes all the fobs that are in the vehicle and if you stop, say at a gas station, and get out of the car to fill it up, if there’s a fob anywhere in the car, it will beep the horn a couple of times and give you all sorts of warning buzzers as soon as you open the door back up. The idea is that you don’t want to accidentally lock the fob in the car. The result is excess annoyance if you leave your mother in the car while you fill it up for her.

    After living with it for 4 years, I can honestly say that I’d rather not have it. Its minor plusses don’t outweigh the major annoyances. Any “cool” factor of pushbutton start instantly disappears when you realize that they put it in Buicks.

    • The bottom line for me is …. why?

      What is wrong with a simple, physical key? Is it really that hard to put a key in an ignition switch and turn? Why would anyone want a digitized, computer-controlled key? It’s Rube Golderberg-esque; technology for the sake of showing what technology can do – not for any meaningful improvement, If anything, the basic task – starting the car – is now more complicated (and prone to costly failures down the road).

      It’s of a piece with those self-closing trunk lids. Ok, if you’re short or have a physical problem, then I get it. But otherwise? Are we really that lazy? That addled by technology? Wait, don’t answer that… the answer is depressingly clear. Go to a mall or anywhere like that where a lot of people are out and about and there is an escalator adjacent to a set of stairs. Nine of out ten people will take the escalator. Of course, eight of them are also obese or obviously overweight.

    • Gee, how things have changed in 4 years. We recently had to buy a new fob for a Dodge diesel pickup, $335. The problem with a physical lock and key is price……too cheap.

  13. The technology itself is (or at least should be) very cheap for the manufacturer at time of assembly. I would say no more expensive than the mechanical parts it replaced, certainly less than the chip in key arrangement, because it is essentially just the chip without the key. RFID technology is very inexpensive these days. It’s also pretty simple. Reliability should be about the same as chip in key systems because it should be very similar. I would expect the switch to wear out before the electronics fail provided everything was done correctly.

    At the dealership what a person is paying is a very high labor rate in addition to high margin on the part from the manufacturer, up to doubled by the distributor and up to doubled again by the dealer. Plus dealerships and mechanics like to play the game with people to whom such things might as well be magic and can pad the bill endlessly when something looks complicated even if it isn’t.
    Imagine selling mechanical key locks when they first came out 😉 And as pointed out, the proprietary knowledge.

    On the flip side, the high margins motivate people to undercut on price. Knock offs, distributors selling direct to the public, and all the usual stuff to get parts cheaper.

    Eventually everything comes down in price. I can get a new OEM PATS key for my ’97 for less than $15 off ebay it appears. When I bought the car it was the horrors of $200+ keys… Now it’s just an ebay order, then getting it cut the usual way and following the instructions in the most unread book of all time, the owners manual. I would expect the same to happen to these fob things in just a few years.


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